A few narrative excesses aside: trenchant, funny, occasionally profound, and always surprising.

A HOLE IN THE EARTH

Mid-life crisis hardly describes the maelstrom that engulfs history teacher Henry Porter in his 39th summer, traced by Bausch (Almighty Me, 1991, etc.) in his finest and most complete novel yet..

Henry's summer should be as aimless as ever—days at the horse track (a passion that putatively cost him wife and daughter), evenings with girlfriend Elizabeth, the occasional existential curveball that his own cigar-chomping personal Fates might hurl his way. But his Fates—one of Henry's strategies to deny that life might have meaning, and that he might have responsibility for it—have more spitballs, sliders, and change-ups than Henry can imagine. Just as the season begins, daughter Nicole shows up unannounced. Five years ago, when he last saw her, she was an obese adolescent; now she's a svelte, vegetarian, high-school graduate. Clumsily, Henry welcomes her—then deserts her for the racetrack. Gambling success equals failure at paternal love, as he cashes in on the daily double. Although he feels guilty about the botched reunion and Nicole's reaction to it, what he should've done always comes to him too late, his mulish feelings lagging significantly behind his actions. A few nights later, the Fates throw a change-up: his girlfriend Elizabeth is two months pregnant. A teacher also, and as ambivalent to commitment as Henry is, Elizabeth knows only that she wants the baby. Little disasters whirl into larger chaos when, after agreeing to marriage, Elizabeth rejects Henry utterly. Henry becomes a “stalker”; an offhanded lie told to protect Nicole gets her assaulted instead by a cute but psychotic white supremacist; and in almost wooing Elizabeth back, he nearly kills her. In the end, Henry must confront the roots of the pain he causes those he loves—and maybe even figure out the meaning of his life.

A few narrative excesses aside: trenchant, funny, occasionally profound, and always surprising.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-15-100529-X

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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